Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 January 2013.Phone: 651-365-0331
The Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir was founded in October 2000 in Eagan, Minnesota. It is an affiliate of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha, a monastic and philanthropic institution, based in Calcutta, India. Yugacharya Sreemat Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj established the Bharat Sevashram Sangha in 1917. The original purpose of the organization was to better the economic and political conditions of Hindus in India under British rule. After a succession of leading satgurus, the Bharat Sevashram Sangha became less a political institution, and more a religious organization. Over the course of the century, nearly five hundred “milan mandirs” or temple branches were established in various parts of India and the Western world, including Trinidad and Guyana of the Caribbean. Today, these mandirs train sannyasins (monks), arrange cultural missions, organize various humanitarian and outreach programs and lead educational activities. The organization strives to create a united Hindu following, without regard to caste or any other social barrier. The Bharat Sevashram Sangha also supports more individual education in religion, encouraging followers to read the Gita and other religious texts. One of the integral elements of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha is the desire to preserve Indian cultural heritage, as well as religious ties, through the celebration of festivals and ancient traditions. These ideals of the organization are found thriving today in the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir. The founding family of the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir migrated to Minnesota from New York in early 1998. While in New York, this family had been an active member of the Sangha branch in Queens. Upon moving, they were eager to establish their own Milan Mandir in Eagan, Minnesota. The services of the temple were originally held in the family room of the founder’s home. Approximately twenty people, including extended family members and close friends, attended these first services in November 1999. After much fund-raising and the financial support of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha base in Chicago, the Balroop family was able to renovate and refurbish a two-car garage on their property, transforming the space into a mandir. The mandir was officially opened in October 2000 with an inauguration yagna facilitated by visiting swamis of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Today, nearly forty families attend the services of the temple.
The principle goal of the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir is to promote the aims and objectives of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha and Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj. These include: 1) To create an environment favorable for moral and spiritual growth. 2) To establish educational and cultural facilities in the community. 3) To foster a greater awareness of the spiritual, and cultural heritage of India. 4) To promote sympathy, tolerance, love, respect and unity among the human race. 5) To help the distressed, nurse the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. 6) To provide necessary financial/relief assistance in times of flood, famine, earthquake and other disastrous conditions.
A defining characteristic of the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir is the diversity of its congregation. The community consists of approximately forty families. Many of which are extended and multi-generational. What is unique to the mandir, however, is that there is an equal mix of Caribbean Indian Hindus and Hindus from the Indian subcontinent. In many areas of the United States, these two groups exist separately, establishing their own mandirs and associations. They rarely interact, except for participating in large-scale Hindu festivals or cultural events. At the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir, however, both groups cooperate and learn from one another. A fraction of temple members are also Caucasian and Afro-Caribbean. The diverse congregation of Milan Mandir is a reflection of the temple’s overriding mission to promote equality and openness of membership, without regard to caste or ethnicity. The majority of attendees reside in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. In a survey conducted, the majority of those questioned identified themselves as members of the upper middle class.
Milan Mandir is located in the outskirts of Eagan, a southern suburb of St. Paul. It rests on the two-acre residential property of the temple president. Adjacent to the temple is a large baseball field, which is used to facilitate yearly outdoor yagnas. The mandir itself is a converted two-car garage. Outside of its entrance is a large clay basin, with eighteen jandhis or bamboo flags, signifying when a puja is completed on the premises. The inside of the temple is approximately thirty by forty feet. The temple is painted white, and decorated with colorful Indian cloth hangings. The altar stands at the north end of the hall. It is comprised of a series of white marble murtis (icons of different forms of God). Each murti is approximately three feet high. These include the murtis of Shiva, Krishna, Hanuman, Lakshman, Ram, Sita, Saraswati, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Durga. All of the murtis are garlanded and dressed in lavish cloth. At the feet of the murtis are brass diyas or lamps, incense, and offerings of fruit, as well as religious texts, such as the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. A large image of Swami Prananvanandaji Maharaj, the founder of the Bharat Seva Ashram Sangha, hangs above the murtis. The altar is surrounded by a puja area and a simhasana. Attendees approach the altar by first touching the end of the platform and then touching their forehead, then ringing a large brass bell. Then, they walk on the platform and bow to the altar. Some also put donations in a steel box at the bottom of the murti of Saraswati. At the back of the east side of the temple, there is a large bulletin board with community notices, including advertisements for dance classes, restaurants and cultural shows. There is also a series of informational flyers, regarding Hindu festivals and the Bharat Seva Ashram Sangha.
Activities and Schedule
Weekly Sunday Service The service at Milan Mandir begins with the chanting of simple dhuns or bhajans (devotional hymns), led by the temple president. The entire audience participates enthusiastically in the chorus. The singing is accompanied by the rhythms of the dholak, dhantal and majeera; all played by temple youth. These opening prayers are followed by the completion of the hawan. Prayer books, with the Hindi transliteration, are passed around the audience. These books also explain the significance and meaning of the recited prayers. Temple members alternate leading the puja on a rotation basis. Different families can sign up to perform the puja on any given Sunday. Many times, they choose to participate in the puja to commemorate a festive or special occasion. Adults, children and elders all jointly perform the puja, as the temple president directs them on the necessary steps. The president recites the accompanying prayers in Hindi, and then explains their meaning in English. This heavy emphasis on the use of English is pervasive in all elements of the Milan Mandir Sunday service and is a reflection of the desire to incorporate the youth members into the traditions. When the puja is completed, the children of the temple pass out the samagri or offerings of the puja among the general audience. The temple president then typically delivers a thirty minute discourse on a teaching in Hinduism. This is followed by the closing prayers, which are again delivered in both Hindi and English. A central segment of the closing prayers is the recitation of the Guru Vandana, a series of praises to God, as the Guru. These verses are directed towards Swami Pranavanandaji Maharaj, the founder of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. The singing of aarti follows these prayers, and then another round of lively bhajans. The service ends with the sharing of prasad or a lunch meal, which consists of traditional Guyanese fare. Shakha Every Saturday morning from 8 AM to 11 AM, there is weekly Shakha, held on the grounds of the temple. Shakha, literally means “branch” or “arm” of any organization. It was founded as an extension of the Rashtriya Swyam Sevak (R.S.S.) or the Hindu Swayam Sevak (American Branch-H.S.S.) in local temples. The goal of Shakha is “to strengthen the mind and mettle of Hindu youth through physical and mental activities and philosophical discussions.” For many, Shakha is also a way to reconnect with their heritage, while reveling in the games of their forefathers. Shakha was introduced to Milan Mandir by a twenty-five-year-old temple member, Adesh, who moved to Minnesota from New York. There, he was initiated into both the R.S.S. and Bharat Sev Ashram Sangha, the head organization of Milan Mandir. Typically about a dozen people attend the weekly Shakha. Every week, there are approximately fifteen participants. The attendees are mainly young men in their early twenties. There are also a few children and girls who attend. Gita Class The Gita Class at Milan Mandir occurs every Thursday from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. It began two years ago, with “Pitaaji” or Mr. P. Sharma. Mr. Sharma migrated directly from India to live with his daughter and family, when his wife died. He decided to start the Gita Class as a way, “to bring the teachings of our religion into our daily lives. Through discussion, we learn that these verses have real-life application and we try to apply them to ourselves.” Every week, the Gita class, also referred to as the “weekly philosophy discussion,” discusses a few verses from the Gita. Sharma explains that “sometimes we get through ten verses, other times, we do not move beyond one line in a verse for the entire two hours.” At the class, Sharma asks each person to bring their copy of the Gita. Class begins with the chanting of the Gita Dhyana, a series of verses in praise of Krishna. Then, everyone chants the current verse. To begin the discussion, Sharma asks each person to read the explanation of the verse from his or her commentary. These explanations can be quite different. The following week, they pick up where they left off and continue forward. Typically, a dozen young adults attend the Gita Class. The majority of attendees are Indians who migrated directly from India, however, there also a few Guyanese and Caucasian Hindus. Festivals and Yagnas The mandir recognizes all major Hindu festivals, including Maha Shivaratri, Holi, Ramnaumi, Hanuman Jayanti, Raksha Bandan, Krishna Janamashtmi, Navratri and Divali. Typically, functions are held in the evenings and many members attend these events. In the celebration of these occasions, the temple elders take special care to involve the youth. Many times, the ancient stories of the festivals are enacted by the youth. Dance and music accompany traditional prayers. Youth speakers also seek to explain the significance of the event. Yagnas or nightly discourses on a specific text, such as the Ramayana or Bhagavad Gita are held bi-annually at the mandir. Swamis from the Bharat Sev Ashram Sangha visit from the headquarters in Chicago and lead the sessions. Youth Programs One of the exciting annual events of the mandir is the week-long summer camp held in July. On average, thirty kids from ages 6 to 16 attend the camp. The camp seeks to blend religion, culture and social interaction. Attendees have religion classes in the morning, where they are taught key religious scriptures and the recitation of the Hawan (agnihotra) prayers. This is followed by traditional music and dance lessons, as well as ancient Indian crafts and games. Camp members also take public speaking classes and even have lessons on health and other contemporary issues. The Milan Mandir camp provides a context for children to interact with each other, while immersing themselves in their culture and religion. The camp ends with a graduation service and cultural show, led by the temple youth. The mandir is also used for weekly Bharatnatyam (South Indian classical dance) classes, as well as harmonium and dholak lessons. The temple also holds a cultural show annually to celebrate the festival of Holi.